Love winter? Does the sight of a crocus poking out of the snow fill you with dread? Is there a tear welling up in the corner of your eye each year as you pack away your ski parka, Sorrel boots and long-johns?
In short, do you view summer as a sweaty, boring waiting room on the long road to the next snowfall?
While you can do nothing to stop the sun and warmer weather from eventually coming to the northern hemisphere this spring, there is a perfect solution for those seeking extended winters. This fall head south -- way, way south!
If you want to get an early start on winter, adding a month to your favorite season, head to Antarctica.
Which is exactly what my wife and I did this past November. It was our 25th wedding anniversary. What better way to spend it than bundled up head to toe?
Flying high over the heads of those wimps who make for Florida, the Caribbean or Cartagena at the sight of the first frost, we landed in Ushuaia, Argentina, on the southern tip of South America. Despite the fact that it was late spring in the southern hemisphere, it was snowing and cold on our arrival.
In other words, perfect!
That afternoon we boarded our ship, the "Academik Loffe," and headed out the Beagle Channel towards the dreaded Drake Passage, where we would steam due South towards the Antarctic Peninsula for 12 nights and 13 days of polar bliss.
The "Loffe," by the way, is not to be confused with the "Academik Shokalskiy," which famously became stuck in the ice around Christmas. While both are Soviet-era "research vessels," the Shokalskiy is only 71 metres long, is operated by an Australian travel firm and carries 54 passengers. The Loffe, built in 1989, is 117 metres long, accommodates 96 passengers, and is operated by OneOcean Travel out of British Columbia.
The ship's interior had been refitted to OneOcean's specifications, which is to say that all vestiges of its Soviet past had been erased, save for the high-gain antenna presumably once used to locate U.S. submarines ("research" was a euphemism for spying back in the 1980s). Our cabin was clean and well-appointed, the meals were first-rate, and there were frequent presentations from on-board experts on everything from ornithology to ice. Plus there were screening of films, including, yes, Happy Feet -- all to distract you from the reality that you were crossing one of the most treacherous stretches of water on the planet.
Our tour was dubbed "Off the Beaten Track" and included a kayaking and camping option. As this sounded like the coldest possible activity available, we of course selected it. Other offered pastimes included snowshoeing, hiking, photography, downhill skiing (preceded by uphill trekking) and Zodiac cruising.
Our first landfall was the South Shetland Islands. It was also our first time out on the water in kayaks. Nothing concentrates the mind quite like kayaking in 0-degree (32 F) water amid ice floes -- especially when your guide promptly falls out of her kayak and into the drink.
Fortunately, that was the one and only unscheduled dip.
Each day we would lower the kayaks and head out to explore -- in places like Neko Harbour, Andvord Bay, Port Lockroy, Wiholmina Bay and Paradise Bay. Along the way was an abundance of wildlife, from Gentoo, Adelie and Chinstrap penguins in rookeries, to airborne Skuas and Albatross, to Humpback and Minke whales, to Crabeater and Leopard seals.
But the real star of the show was the ice. Antarctic ice comes in a variety of forms, from slow-moving glaciers to towering icebergs. The latter can come in a variety of colours, from blue-green, to yellow, to black. You will never look at an ice cube the same again.
And we did camp. Six of us (plus two guides) left the relative comfort of the ship for three days and two nights, sleeping in two-person tents out on the ice. The weather was beautiful -- hovering around zero C during the sunny days and dropping to about -12 C (+10 F) at night. What made this portion of the trip truly special was the solitude -- being so isolated in the most isolated place on earth. Each of us at one point or another took a solitary stroll away from the encampment to just take in the singular experience.
Expedition Leader, Aaron Lawton, had told us at an early briefing that Antarctica would change us, if we just took a deep breath and let the place wash over us. He was right.
Approximately 38,000 people visited Antarctica during the November to March season (the numbers had fallen to just over 16,000 at the depth of the Great Recession, but have rebounded back to pre-2008 levels.) The continent is highly regulated -- no more than 100 people per day are allowed ashore at any one landing site and nothing can be left behind -- human waste included -- even at camp sites.
It is the last great pristine place, with air so pure that you realise what your lungs have been missing.
For us, it was the perfect 25th anniversary trip. Even if we didn't already like winter.
The author received no consideration from the tour operator and did not reveal he would be writing about the trip. Shipboard accommodation begins at $7,095 per person for a shared triple and rises to $12,995 for a suite. Airfare not included. More information can be found here.
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